The Literature of the Spanish People: From Roman Times to the Present Day

By Gerald Brenan | Go to book overview

that of the jongleurs--my obligation was clear. This poetry was written only in Spain, was derived from a popular poetry sung in Romance and had a long line of descent in Spanish literature. No effort of the imagination is required to see that Ibn Guzmán and the Archpriest of Hita belong to a similar school of jongleuresque poetry, or that the popular copla that is sung in the streets of Seville today is descended from the markaz or jarcha of Spanish- Arab popular song. One of the most striking things in Spanish literature is the persistence of the native folk-song and the influence it has had upon even the most sophisticated poets.

In my third chapter I describe the appearance of the Castilian border epic--so comparable to that of the romance or ballad two centuries later--and then the sudden spate of Galician-Portuguese lyric poetry that followed it. Galicians and Portuguese shared at this time one culture and one language: the political division between them was less than that which divided the Duchy of Normandy from the Île de France. Moreover this poetry acquired such a prestige that Galician became for a time the recognized language for lyric verse throughout Castile, not only among the nobles but also to some extent among the people. Its influence in forming and giving music to the Castilian lyric of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was capital, all the more since it did not operate through direct imitation by the court poets, but welled up in a devious and unconscious way in popular song. For this reason no history of Castilian poetry could be written without some account of the Galician cantigas de amigo.

Round about the year 1500 there was a short period during which Portuguese poets wrote in Spanish as well as in their own language, just as in earlier times Castilians had written in Galician- Portuguese. I have therefore given a few pages to the greatest of these bilingual poets, Gil Vicente, though only as regards his Spanish works. After this Portuguese literature broke away from Spanish and took its own course. At about the same time Galician ceased to exist as a cultural language and sank to the position of a provincial dialect. In this it continued until the 1860's, when the Federal Movement brought a brief renaissance and a burst of poetry. It seemed only natural to discuss this, all the more since

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